Recommended Re-Viewing is a series in which we make the case for re-watching an old film or TV series which you can stream without leaving your house. It might be a plot that's so bad it's good, a scene which deserves more interrogation or a director's underrated gem.
Here 'Spaced' and 'Shaun of the Dead' actor and screenwriter Simon Pegg talks about 'Léon: The Professional' – the 1994 film starring Jean Reno and Natalie Portman as unlikely friends and later fellow assassins – and the impact it has had on his work and life.
My wife and I joke that she named our daughter after Roald Dahl’s Matilda and I named her after Natalie Portman in Léon. Tilly has been reading a lot of anime comics and is a bit of a film buff so I suggested showing her Léon for the first time the other night.
It’s a film set in the US with an incredibly European sensibility and, as with the director Luc Besson's film The Fifth Element, it's disconnected from typical Hollywood language, which makes it feel different.
I first saw Léon in 1994 at the cinema in Staples Corner Retail Park, the same place I met Nick Frost, who was working at the Chiquitos restaurant there. It was around the time when Tarantino had appeared on the scene, Pulp Fiction came out that year and True Romance before it. It was quite visceral crime thriller period and Léon was slap bang in the middle of that, but it felt much more lyrical and romantic.
Jean Reno plays Léon almost like a silent film star. It’s such a brilliant juxtaposition of innocence and brutality where he’s this killing machine but also like a little boy who drinks milk. He also practices good social distancing by using the sniper rifle – when you’re a really good assassin you can use a knife, but in a pandemic you’d have to use the sniper rifle.
When Edgar Wright and I were in the writing room for Hot Fuzz we kept talking about how Léon had this plant he cared for, which he related to more than people, and that was why we gave Nicholas Angel the Peace Lily, as though he had only really found true simpatico with a vegetable. I hold my hands up and gladly admit that we stole that from Léon.
im电竞官网-Natalie Portman gives such a natural and unmannered performance; there's that great scene where she pays off the kids who are the same age as her but who she seems totally beyond them in her maturity.
There's this sort of mental love affair between Léon and Matilda where Luc Besson dares to let them have that romance in spite of the age difference and it just skims the edges of acceptability. They’ve both experienced a life stage dissolution, where he’s been held back in some respects and she’s been pushed forward. Somewhere in the middle they meet and are kind of star-crossed lovers in a cerebral way, which is at times icky and quite challenging, but I think in a good way.
If you walk out of a cinema entertained but forget what you’ve watched an hour later then that’s a waste of time. Howard Barker said that 'entertainment is an overrated function of art' and I think that’s really true, things shouldn’t always be easy, they should be challenging and uncomfortable. I think great movies stick around forever and Léon is a truly engrossing, challenging, entertaining film.
When I was watching it with my daughter I turned to her halfway through the film and told her I'd worked with Jean Reno on Hector and the Search for Happiness a few years ago. I remember the first time I met him I came out a trailer and was really star-struck but went over and introduced myself. I said, “This is my daughter Matilda”, because I was carrying her at the time. And he literally went, “Matilda”, the way he says her name in the film.
I told her the story and she couldn’t believe she’d met Léon.
As told to Olivia Ovenden